On March 8 – International Women’s Day – the province announced it is moving to begin consultations on a new pay transparency legislation aimed at ending the gender pay gap in B.C. workplaces.
And while the move has been criticized by an Opposition MLA as an attempt to “politicize” International Women’s Day, South Surrey MLA Stephanie Cadieux – who introduced an Equal Pay Reporting Act as a private member’s bill in 2018 and has tried numerous times since then to bring it forward – said she doesn’t care too much what side of the Legislature the legislation comes from.
“I’m not against consultation, and I’m not against adding more to the bill. The important thing is, let’s just get it done,” Cadieux, also Gender Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion critic, said.
“I’ve said all along I didn’t expect (the NDP government) to pass my bill. I expected them to introduce their own legislation, and I will support it, as long as there is nothing too crazy in it, and I can’t imagine there would be.”
Cadieux said she modelled her own bill closely on an act currently in force in the UK, which calls for companies to report annual publication of men and women’s wages nation-wide for comparison purposes – and which seems to be working well there.
“The idea is that once a year information is made publicly available on a website,” Cadieux said.
“It makes for conversations about where pay discrepancies exist. You see who are the good players and who are the not-so-good players. When it’s public, you have to get at the issues.”
B.C. has the dubious distinction of having one of the largest gender pay gaps in Canada, with women making an average of 20 per cent less than men. It’s also one of only four provinces, along with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, without either pay transparency or pay equity legislation.
Consultations for the new legislation will begin in the spring. Indigenous organizations, public- and private-sector employer groups, businesses and union organizations, equity-seeking organizations and groups that work to create equal opportunity for women will all be consulted, as well as employers who have already established pay transparency policies.
“In B.C., women continue to make less, on average, than men,” said Grace Lore, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, in announcing the consultations.
“Indigenous women, women of colour, immigrant women, and Two-Spirit, non-binary and transgender people also face barriers that others do not. We want to hear from a variety of groups and individuals so that we can build made-in-B.C. pay transparency legislation that will help us address pay inequity and move toward equality.”
Lore will lead the work on the legislation and will be supported by labour minister Harry Bains.
“I’m pleased (the government) has finally decided to take action on this,” Cadieux said. “I just hope it’s not a long, drawn-out, secretive process.”
She said that until the consultation process is complete – and legislation is introduced – it will be hard to tell what differences there will be between her bill and what the government will propose.
Cadieux said she also believes the majority of employers aren’t aware of where pay discrepancies exist.
“I don’t think they set out to pay women less, but they’re subject to unconscious bias, and societal ‘norms’ that have developed “over a very long time.”
In a news release, the province noted the legislation comes amid “historic” investments in child care, increased housing for women and children fleeing domestic violence, as well as raising the minimum wage and liquor-server wages.
Following the March 8 announcement, Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee criticized the NDP for what he said was “politicizing” International Women’s Day. He noted Cadieux’s numerous past tries to bring her bill forward without response from the government.
“We’re talking about gender-based discrimination (knowing about) a private member’s bill that the member from Surrey South has brought in this house repeatedly — session after session after session after session — and I’m faced here by the members opposite pontificating about how they believe in the equal rights of women in our province, yet they’ve denied bringing that bill on the floor of this house.”
“If [the Premier] believes in the equality of women in this province he will ensure the house leader for the government calls the bill in this session because this is the time to be doing that,” Lee added.